What has concerned us so far in the process that has been coined the “campus redevelopment project” covering the 36 acres of prime real estate ceded to the City of Falls Church last year, is that neither of the two bids responding to the City’s “request for development” seems geared to fully exploiting the enormous economic development potential represented by the land’s proximity to the West Falls Church Metro station.
Part of it, we presume (the guts of both the bids are currently sealed), is caused by the requirement for a brand new high school and expanded middle school. To make that happen as the first priority, the construction must occur while the current school facilities remain in use. That, by definition, limits a big component of the 10 acres of the land allotted for economic development (under terms of the land sale) to be where the current schools are. That’s a big problem, because the current schools are at the part of the site farthest from the Metro, meaning that commercial development there will also be farthest from the Metro.
Two points for now. First, the highly successful new Hilton Garden Inn in the 700 block of W. Broad Street cites its success on its patrons’ perception that it is very close to the Metro (with a hotel van that shuttles people there). Second, the City has a strong tendency to make extremely bad decisions on matters of this kind, as its decision in the early 1990s to lease for $1 a year the land on which the University of Virginia/Virginia Tech grad center sits demonstrated.
There remains an aversion to the notion of what the Metro system can bring to the City of Falls Church in terms of tax revenue to the City. According to one expert who provided background information to the News-Press on the campus redevelopment project this week, constraints placed on commercial development at the site are a big factor in why only two developers have bid on the effort.
This source is convinced that the regional office market is overbuilt, already, and the population “critical mass” is not in or immediately around Falls Church right now to make a lot more retail here work.
But what will work in proximity to the Metro are condominiums, and it is prime time for that boom to resurface. If the condos are designed well enough, they can appeal to millennials and age-targeted populations that will have the natural effect of limiting their occupancy by families with children, and they will bring their considerable spending power to Falls Church.
Moreover, a combination high-rise condo project and hotel right at the Metro would yield the highest tax revenue return to Falls Church of any other option.
Is it too late to bring this vision into play? It worries us that a decision as horrible as the one the City made in the early 1990s might repeat.